As part of our 2023 Scholarship, Leslie traveled to Norway aboard a Hurtigruten Norwegian Coastal Express voyage, with mentoring from award-winning creatives Dan and Zora Avila.
I would be lying if I said I was over the moon when it was announced our excursion for the day would be visiting a local church instead of hiking up a mountain for an epic view. But the experience that unfolded throughout the day turned out to be one of the best of the whole trip and as a result changed the way I approach travel forever.
It started in Rørvik, where we took a bumpy boat ride to the island of Naerøya with our local guide for the day, Renata. The first thing that struck me about her was the fantastic ensemble she had chosen to wear to tackle the bitter cold.
Along with wearing the attire of someone from a bygone age, her commitment came in the form of her passionate and animated storytelling which invited us to jump into the history of the region.
Venturing through the countryside, we passed hordes of haywire sheep before being immersed in serenity when arriving at the revered Church.
For me, this was driven by the realisation that humans had been coming to this exact spot for almost 1000 years and I was just one of the many to walk in these footsteps. I found a strange beauty between the significance of the site and the insignificance of myself. This feeling only grew as Renata serenaded everyone with ancient Viking songs which echoed through the building, sending chills down my spine.
As I left the church thinking I had experienced the highlight of my day, Renata unexpectedly led us to a humble red hut where we were introduced to farm manager, Øyvind, responsible for keeping the sheep that graze the island’s pastures and the fresh scent of coffee in the air. Øyvind kindly invited everyone inside for a taste of warmth, but the few of us that braved the cold outside, farm owner, Camilla, rewarded us with one of the biggest highlights of the whole trip.
It was here she mentioned an enchanting, secluded beach nearby, which elicited excitement from all of us. Sensing an opportunity for potential adventure, Camilla asked if we wanted to explore it. We looked at each other knowing we didn’t have much time before we needed to get back to the departing boat.
However, in true Viking spirit, Camilla swiftly quelled those thoughts by mounting what can only be described as a 6-wheel, trailer-extended, dirt-painted, quad bike.
Inspired by her actions, we tumbled into the back and were soon tearing through the fields full-pelt towards the beach. Clinging on for dear life with every bang and twist, we were thankful to arrive in what must be a record time of two minutes flat to a gorgeous beach we had all to ourselves.
Walking along the shore soaking up the last of the sun, I reflected on this surprisingly fantastic day. I couldn’t help but smile at my initial apprehension about this “boring” excursion and how my perspective had been completely flipped on its head thanks to these three extraordinary Vikings. It reminded me of a quote I'd heard: “It's always the people that make the place”. In this case, it's the altruistic, passionate, and hardy people that make up the wonderful country of Norway.